Turkish government wavers on plan to curb power of judges

Government may backtrack on proposal to curb judges' powers as demonstrators call for 'revolution' over probe into alleged bribery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 2:42pm

The Turkish government has signalled it may back down on its contentious bid to curb judges' powers as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Turkey's capital, Ankara, in protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which has been rocked by a corruption probe.

Turkey's justice minister said that the government might abandon a reform package which would give it more powers over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.

"If political party groups come together ... and reach a consensus, the proposal could be halted," local media quoted Bekir Bozdag as saying.

Scuffles had broken out ahead of a second round of debate on the proposals in parliament's justice commission on Saturday, with local media reporting that politicians threw punches, water bottles and an iPad.

Erdogan's ruling AKP party moved to tighten its grip over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors. That was slapped down by the top judicial body itself as unconstitutional and sparked criticism from the United States and the European Union. As Erdogan arrived home after a week-long tour to Asia, about 20,000 protesters gathered at Ankara's major Sihhiye Square, chanting "revolution will clean this filth" and "they are thieves".

Some protesters handed out fake dollars with Erdogan's photo on them.

The corruption scandal implicating allies of Erdogan has rattled his government to its core, and poses the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule.

It erupted on December 17, when several public figures, including businessmen and the sons of three ministers, were detained over allegations of bribery for construction projects as well as illicit money transfers to sanctions-hit Iran.

Forced into a cabinet reshuffle after the three ministers resigned, the prime minister has responded angrily to the probe, calling it a "dirty plot" to discredit his government.

He sacked hundreds of police chiefs in a purge and has moved to curb the powers of the judiciary.

Erdogan's government has accused loyalists of US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose movement wields influence in the police and judiciary, of instigating the corruption probe.

Lami Ozgen, one of the protest leaders, said the scandal shed light on the nature of both the government and the Gulen movement. "The crisis has made it known to the public how those who abuse religion and faith ... are fond of wealth, luxury and splendour, how they worship money and how they see bribery as their direction to Mecca."

Gulen was a supporter of the AKP party when it first came to power in 2002.

The two parted ways after the government moved to shut down a network of private schools run by the movement.

"We will not be a mere spectator to this power struggle, because they are ... eating up our salaries and the future of our children," Ozgen said.

Gulen, who left Turkey for the United States in 1999 after being accused of plotting to form an Islamic state, has denied any involvement in the corruption investigation.